Religious Affairs Bureau to Probe Shaolin Abbot

Religious Affairs Bureau to Probe Shaolin Abbot

The abbot of Henan’s Shaolin Monastery, the Chan Buddhist institution famous for being the birthplace of China’s first institutionalized form of Kung Fu, will be investigated by the local religious affairs bureau on order of the central government for alleged fraud and sexual misconduct. Shi Yongxin, who also holds an MBA, has long been controversial for his leadership style—one that has done much to boost the temple’s commercial success but is seen by some to directly conflict with Buddhist doctrine. The AP reports:

“Our bureau takes this extremely seriously and will swiftly clarify … and ensure a correct understanding of the matter,” the bureau said in a one-sentence notice issued late last week and viewed on the city government website Monday.

The notice didn’t specify any of the claims, although media reports say the accusations include that Shi fathered children with at least two women and embezzled temple funds.

[…] A statement posted on the temple website dismissed the claims as “untrue rumors” fabricated by people seeking to harm Zen Buddhism. It said the temple has already contacted legal authorities about bringing a libel case against those publishing the claims.

“We hope the broad masses will can respect the law, respect the reputation of others and uphold the fair and just legal social environment,” the statement said.

Shi has been criticized by some for seeking to turn the temple and its famed kung fu fighting monks into a commercial enterprise. [Source]

More on the controversial monk’s background and the recently announced investigation into him from Fergus Ryan at The Guardian:

Shi is a well-known figure in China, where he is nicknamed the “CEO monk” for his entrepreneurial flair and penchant for international travel.

[…] The claims, posted by a former disciple at the temple using the pseudonym Shi Zhengyi, alleged that [abbot] Shi had been expelled from the famous temple in the late 1980s.

Documents provided by the former monk indicated that the abbot had embezzled money though the issuance of fake receipts. Shi was also accused of holding double identities and having sexual relations with several women, fathering several children.

[…] Shi made international headlines in February when he announced plans for Shaolin to build a $297m (£190m) complex in Australia that would include a temple, hotel, kung fu academy and golf course. Shaolin temple, built in the late fifth century, insists that aggressive commercialisation is s the best way to defend its heritage and spread its Buddhist message.

Online witch-hunts such as this have become less common under President Xi Jinping, who has favoured a government- rather than grassroots-led campaign to root out corruption in the country [see prior coverage of Xi’s corruption purge, via CDT]. […] [Source]

The South China Morning Post reports that the abbot failed to appear at a martial arts exhibition in Bangkok at which he was scheduled to lead the Chinese delegation, and that an academic who visited the monk posted a picture and said “everything is normal” at Shaolin.

When recalling a 2011 interview with Shi, Isaac Stone Fish is tempted to describe the monk in villainous terms. From Foreign Policy:

When I met the now 50-year-old Shi in the summer of 2011, he was already sick of the rumors swirling around news sites and Chinese social media about his personal life, with accusations of infidelity and immorality getting louder and louder. Back then, the most pervasive “rumor” was that Shi had been arrested for visiting prostitutes, and a temple spokesman claimed he had met the prostitutes in order to “enlighten them.” Shi denied all of these allegations, which he said had been invented by bored and impulsive Chinese netizens. The abbot told me, in a gravelly voice, that “it is impossible for this to happen to someone who has been a monk for seventeen years.” And then, lifting his Don Corleone-like jowls, he smiled.

[…] My interview with Shi took place in a temple room with golden walls and air conditioning befitting a poultry freezer. The temple sits not far outside of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of the large province of Henan, and Shi spoke proudly about his relationship with local government officials. He also claimed, unconvincingly, that he received less than $100 of pocket money a month, and that the temple’s roughly 3,000 monks share the big ticket items, like cars. I couldn’t decide if he moved like a languid martial arts champion who can poke holes in glass with his toe, or like a world-weary gangster relaxing in a bathrobe.

Perhaps gangster is too strong a word for Shi, the 13th abbot of Shaolin, a former temple disciple who ascended to the top in 1999. And yet, he’s a man used to deference: in my seven years in China, the only time I ever saw someone kowtow to a living person – head touching the ground by their feet – was a food seller who wanted something from Shi. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” Shi told him tiredly, barely glancing at the man’s prone form.

[…] Shi wanted to talk about the success of Shaolin’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. “Every year on a provincial level we have meetings with representatives from different religious groups,” he said. “Everyone is very satisfied with the government’s policy.” Whether or not that was ever true, the local government no longer seems satisfied with him. [Source]


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